Archive for August, 2008

License to Drive and Spy

I thought it was pretty bad that I had to take an eight-hour course in traffic school a few years ago (let’s not go into reasons why…), but that’s nothing compared to the hoops you have to jump through in order to get a license in Japan.

In a humorous article from the front lines, Reuters correspondent Chang-Ran Kim reports that would-be drivers in Japan “must attend 26 lectures lasting 50 minutes each, and have 34 driving lessons before the final test.”

THIRTY-FOUR DRIVING LESSONS! I think I had to suffer through maybe five during summer school when I was sixteen. Then again, there are fewer car accidents in Japan than there are here. Maybe there’s a method to the madness.

First-aid training and twice-daily written exams are part of the package, too. There is even a mandatory personality test that seems designed to determine whether or not you’ll fall prey to road rage. Oh, and any score less than 90 out of 100 is considered a fail!

Perhaps it’s easier to stick to the subway system or hail a cab?

Foreigners looking to drive in Japan have a strangely arbitrary set of options. According to this online book for JET students, if you are from the United Kingdom, most European countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand or Spain, you need only take a written and eye exam, but if you’re from the U.S., Africa, China, Brazil or Eastern Europe you have to take a written exam and a practical exam. (Hmm, what are they trying to say? That Americans can’t drive? Given that I’ve had to go to traffic school, I’m not really in a position to argue, but still…;)

Speaking of driving, it seems that Google Street View (with its constantly updated, panoramic satellite images of nearly every corner of the world) is not popular with everyone in Japan. Global Voices Online has put up an open letter to Google written by Japanese blogger and IT professional Osamu Higuchi that describes why the sudden loss of privacy disturbs him. For Higuchi, Street View feels “instinctively wrong”, partly because “The residential roads of Japan’s urban areas are a part of people’s living space, and it is impolite to photograph other people’s living spaces.”

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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August 29, 2008 at 1:43 pm 3 comments

Tokyo Chills with Fro-Yo

Trends can take a couple years to traverse the Pacific. So as frozen yogurt wanes in the U.S., Japan is just starting to take its first bite.

This year, three shops have moved into the scattered cubbyholes of Tokyo, each offering its own addicting blend of dairy goodness.

At Pure Berry in Shibuya, it’s all about accessorizing. Customers can fashion their cup of yogurt with over 20 different toppings, including chocolate sprinkles, jelly beans, gummy bears and Teddy Grahams. Piled high, it’s either a monstrosity or a work of art. As an special bonus, this fro-yo is collagen-infused.

Not to be undersold, Golden Spoon dishes out over 15 original flavors like peanut butter and chocolate coconut. It’s part of a west coast U.S. chain that claims to be as tasty as ice cream. Just like with lipstick — Maybelline, CoverGirl, and the like — American brands have a certain aura of coolness that Japanese don’t mind dishing a few extra cents for. In three years, they plan to open 100 branches across the country.

And then there’s PinkSweetBerry, which sounds suspiciously similar to U.S.-born chain. (Hmmm~) Here it’s all about fresh fruit — kiwis, strawberries, pineapples, bananas, mangoes. If you’ve ever lived in Japan you know what a rare commodity fruits are. A three-topping cup is about $5; the price of a large cup at Pinkberry. Not bad if you ask me.

Japanese people seem to take to the palate-cleansing treat especially after a night of hard drinking. And especially after a heavy dinner of Korean grilled beef. Heart burn can be a real buzz-killer.
Frozen yogurt might be old news in the U.S. but thanks to new franchises like these, it’s become the coolest scene in Tokyo. (^o^)

Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!

JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more

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August 26, 2008 at 10:31 am

Sock it to Me

The International Herald Tribune’s got a great article on Japan’s love of socks, particularly the five-fingered sock, which looks like a glove for your feet and lets you waggle your toes individually. This style supposedly helps boost circulation. It doesn’t hurt that it’s extra comfy, too.

Like many things in Japan, five-fingered socks have a history dating back to the 16th century Edo Period: in a sense, they evolved from tabi, which are split at the big toe for use with wooden sandal clogs (think elevated flip-flops) worn with kimonos. Today, tabi with vinyl or rubber soles are popular among martial artists, as well as traditional dancers or theater performers, because they help grip the stage.

Why do socks matter? ‘Cause when you’re in Japan you’ll be strutting your stuff in them more often than you might expect. It’s customary to remove your shoes when visiting someone’s home, certain restaurants, shrines, classrooms or traditional inns, so there is definitely an incentive to make sure your socks A) match B) are neat and clean C) are cute or trendy, depending on the situation.

Since 2005, a Kyoto-based shop called Sou Sou has been reviving the tabi look, with a funky modern edge. (The slip-on mules are my favorite.) For cute, colorful, constantly-updated selections, take a look at this Japanese Sock Shop.

So kick off your shoes, but check your socks first!

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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August 22, 2008 at 9:55 am 3 comments

R U a Slave to Fashion?

Are you a slave to fashion? Do you walk in 4-inch heels? Lug around a hobo bag?

Do you wear plastic nails and make it clickety-clack on the keyboard all day to your coworkers’ ire? That’s what girls do all the time, not just in Japan but throughout the world. Though the difference in Japan is that women pay nearly $100 for a set of acrylics.

You’ll find a nail salon on the top floor of most fashionable department stores in Tokyo, staffed by cookie-cutter cute women. I had my nails done last year with my mom in Tokyo. I told her it was my treat after I noticed each menu item was no more than $40. Though once we sat down it was like we were paying by the minute. Basic nail care (filing, cuticle cutting) was $35. Hand treatment was $20. Nail color added another $15. Acrylics were $6 per finger. Grand total per person: $130. Luckily, mom paid for lunch.

Quite honestly, I don’t see the big deal in getting your nails done, especially if it costs a week’s worth of bento lunches. But in a society where even 3-year-olds are sporting the plastic, you can only guess how much they value visual presentation here.

Japanese acrylics are definitely the cutest I’ve seen. They come in all shapes, sizes and forms. Some come with extravagant bows. Some are airbrushed in different color gradients. Glitter is a big thing, as are jewels. Women love nail decorations so much they even glam up their cell phones with them.

Really now, is that necessary? @.@

Himawari

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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August 19, 2008 at 8:24 am 2 comments

Chug It! Try an Eel Drink to Beat the Heat

Hot, tired and thirsty this summer?

How about some carbonated milk or cucumber-flavored Pepsi?

align=Just kidding. Those are so 2007. This summer in Japan it’s all about the eel juice. Dubbed “Unagi Nobori,” or “Surging Eel,” (the words also mean “sudden spike”), this new soft drink is supposed to give you a burst of energy to help you combat the summer heat, and contains extracts from eels’ bones and heads, as well as vitamins. Um…yum?

Actually, yes. At least, according to Japan Marketing News, which calls the drink “fantastically tasty.”

This summer is perfect for eel juice’s debut, because Doyo no Ushi no Hi, normally an annual event dedicated to eating eel, occurred twice this year: July 24th and August 5th. Doyo no Ushi no Hi started in the Edo Period, as a response to abysmally hot weather, because eels are believed to increase stamina. Naturally, restaurants capitalized on the holiday and encouraged its celebration, promoting dishes of sliced, grilled eel coated in a sweet barbeque sauce. Not so different from a 4th of July feast, when you think about it.

Still thirsty?
Check out Inventor Spot’s list of Top Ten Weird and Bizarre Japanese Soft Drinks, including kids’ beer, of course!

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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August 15, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Good Things Come in Brown Packages

Despite the rising cost of fruits these days, I’m grateful for anything I can get at my local supermarket. Back in Japan, I’d scour the aisle for a single mango, even a squished blueberry. They’re a dime a dozen in neighboring countries, but thanks to strict import regulations they’re black market-worthy commodity. Imagine being the only kid who’s never seen a kiwi.

Luckily, there’s now a number of shipping companies (here, here and here) that double as fruit bearers to loved ones back in Japan. Freshness is guaranteed; all you have to do is choose from the catalog.

They offer rare items like papaya, avocado, green mangoes, and seasonal treats like Raineer cherries (June-July). The bill amounts to a little more than what you’d pay to ship it yourself, but considering the hassle by agricultural inspectors, I’d say it’s worth it.

And it doesn’t stop at all things round and sweet. The treasure trove includes Pepperidge Farm cookies, Godiva chocolates, booze, foie gras, fresh seafood and raw steaks. And for $60 they’ll even ship a birthday cake to your favorite pen pal in Tokyo. It’s fully decorated, though she’ll have to light her own candles. (Hopefully someone could sing to her.) Japanese birthday cakes all come the same: cute, light and spongy. So it’d serve a great cultural lesson to give an American cake to a Japanese person. “This is why you Americans are so fat!” you’ll have them saying.

Of course, with all the great food you can get in Japan — sushi, tempura, Pocky — why ask for more, right? Well, with anything in excess, even good things, the palate grows tired. That’s when you start calling your friends back home, begging them to send you a big, fat care package. Blueberries, check. avocados, check. Fillet mignon with all the trimmings, check.

Himawari

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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August 12, 2008 at 9:19 am

Mixi to the Rescue?

How many logins and passwords for websites do you have to keep track of? Just off the top of my head I can think of ten…It’s enough to drive me insane trying to remember them, or even to remember to use them (MySpace, I’m talking to you). Sometimes less is more. Ditto with the platform and style; Craigslist is famously bare-bones but effective. Leaving out the bells and whistles on a website can be a wise move if it means delivering what people truly want all in one place.

Mixi, Japan’s most popular social networking site, combines aspects of MySpace, Craigslist, Facebook, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Amazon and iTunes. According to the Washington Post, Mixi grabs 15 million users and 14 billion page hits per month. 1 in 5 Japanese people with Internet access are members.

Bulletin boards,job opportunities and blogging are the three main draws, but there are also music plug-ins and DVD / book reviews that link to places where you can purchase the products immediately. Unlike MySpace, where you are expected to constantly update the look and style of your personal page, on Mixi there is no way to alter the design or coding, and anonymity is preferred (forget about plastering your personal info out there for all the world to see). Membership is restricted to invitation from current users only — much like Gmail used to be — and users must be 18, as well provide a Japanese cell phone contact number. For these reasons, Mixi will probably remain insular and never catch on outside Japan.

If could pare down my logins and passwords to one each, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Then again, the grass is always greener: “Mixi Fatigue” is already on the rise…

Sarah S.

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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August 8, 2008 at 12:19 pm 1 comment

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